April 30, 2005

The Haiku

Haiku is a strange verse form. It's hard to write one in English that isn't at least partially successful. This may be why they are so often assigned to children who are learning to write creatively.

There are theorists who say that the form as we know it in English is too roomy. That is, the structre of japanese is such that the seventeend syllables we are familiar with constitute between four and seven words. The claim that a fairer test of being able to master the Japanese form as it was to the Japanese would be to make the poem something like 3-5-3 syllables. I've written haiku to these specifications--they are tougher and resemble more the Japanese form.

One of the challenges I try for myself is to see how "long" I can make a haiku. Can I compose one that contains seventeen words. What is the maximum length of a word of one syllable--of two? For this reason the words strength and strengthened are appealing.

But experiments with haiku seem to be one predominant strain of poetry in the past and up to the present day. What makes it work so well?

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Metahaiku--Theme and Variations with an Homage

words are wasted to
make lines work; a poetic
form doomed to failure

words wasted to fill
out lines, a poetic form
reduced to white noise

to fill the lines words
are wasted, a poetic
form of impotence

too many words just
for the count, poems flabby with
verbiage, leaking

a poet adds words
to force lines, sheer chaos, you
don't get your wordsworth

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Chains of Desire

of heaven painted on things
as we see them now.

Object of desire--sure sign
of its maker--Lord of life.

In not holding on
to things we know, need, and love,
we grow heavenward.

The sky is His-promise-blue--
beyond blue--no clouds--no rain.

Learn now how to be--
see--autumn sky, fall leaves--cool
promise of winter.

Desire--good as it seeks He
who is end of all desire.

Desire--ill wind that
keeps blowing as it is fed--
seeking self alone.

Desire teaches us good, shows
us how to see, be, and want.

I want the ocean
broad salt, the great rivers, I
want and do not need.

Desire stretches want into
need. It doesn't know its end.

Stalk the white egret
for its plumage finery
for a woman's hat

whatever we want becomes
the end to which we will go.

The heart's home, the warmth
of the breath breathed at the start,
Holy Spirit's flame.

How then can we know the line--
want and need, shadow and light?

Seek first the kingdom
and His righteousness, all else
comes to you through these.

But the human heart is trained
to want far beyond its means.

Trained to desire, chained
to desire--the will gives way
in the face of it.

So we must learn to not want
to have without having now.

To enjoy all things
both for themselves as they are
God's own goodly work.

But also to see within
them God's shadow. Taste God there.

Desire would hold you
bound, pining, dying not
for itself but for want.

Desire is the spur, the goad, God's
direction arrow pointed home.

Love without keeping,
take without taking, gold chips
in the chilly stream.

Glint for those who come after,
for you, the moment God spoke.

Hear Him in every word,
see in every motion, not one
thing is without Him.

Desire calls us home-answer
and discover where home is.

Okay, it's only a start. There seem to be much, much more to say on the matter, but I must come back to it. Too much compressed poetry squeezes the mind and the japanese forms were not meant to do this. Nevertheless, it comes off rather like the Analects, so not a complete failure--and by way of an answer to one at Lofted Nest.

Between the heron
and the wren--silence builds a
home, spring comes early.

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April 29, 2005



Does anyone know to what I refer?

If I WERE you and did not know, I might go here. On the other hand, it's equally likely I wouldn't.

Yes, I have absurd little interests, but it takes the sting out of not having a life on a Friday night.

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For TSO and Bill White

Who were waxing poetic on similar strains yesterday. Go Here and partake of "Ode." I'm sure you will find it salutary, sobering, and edifying. :-D

Side note to Julie--this is one way to see some of X.J. Kennedy's stuff. May have sent you there in comment, but I suspect you will not find "Ode" as uplifting as the two stalwart gentlemen.

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From "The Seven Deadly Virtues"

Hey, I said I was going to stop running off at the mouth about poetry, NOT that I was going to stop loving it or posting it.

from "The Seven Deadly Virtues
X. J. Kennedy

Good Cheer

When grief and gloom are what you want, good cheer
Is nothing but a big pain in the rear.

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At Long Last--A Meeting

I did finally meet my friends of some eleven or twelve years' acquaintance. They stopped by one their way home. Joachim runs a service for all of us in The Journey--a daily reflection on scripture. I have been writing for him every week for over eleven years now.

He was everything in person that he has been in cyberspace. Never have I had the pleasure of meeting someone who was so much a calm center in the midst of the human press. One got the sense that at the very center of his being was peace to be shared with all the world. Anyway, that was the sense I got.

Joachim, his wife, Linda, and Samuel and I all had dinner and talked like we had been talking for ten-thousand years without stop.

What can I say? Every time I meet my friends from cyberspace the reality ALWAYS exceeds the expectations. I had been disappointed in my hope to meet Joachim at an earlier time--the situation turned out to be a tremendous blessing. But this evening was one of the most enjoyable I've experienced since my return from Dallas.

I hope each of you has the opportunity for the joy I have received in my several meetings with bloggers. I am hoping that there comes another opportunity to visit Ohio and particularly Columbus because one of my favorite bloggers lives there and I'd love to see him in person. With my current project, who knows?--it could happen!

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Reading Poetry--A Final Word

My dear wife has just started reading the blog and states that when I get going on poetry, her eyes glaze over. And frankly, for the time being, I'm at the end of what I have to say, in general, about the subject. So this will be the last for a while at least on this theme in this way.

I have been asked where one might start with poetry. I think Talmida said it best below--you start where they poetry speaks to you, and that will be different for each person. However, if you don't know what will speak to you, where will you start?

Well, it is probably best to start where the language is rich, yet simple--where the poetry is obvious, but should you care to pursue it, deep. For this reason I recommend of the older poets William Blake and Emily Dickinson. Both are straightforward. Both have large collections of poetry available on the web. Both have seemingly simply lyrics that when carefully examined open up into interesting worlds of revelations.

Of the modern poets, for similar reasons I recommend Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats. Yeats is a bit more complex, but lyrics like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Second Coming" are rich, and yet not so abstruse as to dissuade the beginner from attempting anything else.

Another thing you don't find in these poets is some of the tortured syntax and particularly "poetic" diction that one might find in other poets.

Another poet I like tremendously, but who takes some reading and getting used to is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many of his poems are "story" poems, but there are some very fine, simple lyrics.

Spoon River Anthology is a nice collection for people who want poems to tell stories. You might want to know that the poems are all spoken by those who have died in Spoon River--many of them tend to be a touch downbeat.

Finally, a much neglected twentieth century poet--Edward Arlington Robinson comes to mind as a great favorite. Few people seem to read him any more, and yet his Merlin is one of the great Arthurian poems of recent date. More often than not his contribution to poetry is recognized in anthologies as "Miniver Cheevy" or "Richard Corey," both fine poems, but hardly representative of this great poet.

These are, of course, only some suggested starting places. There are a great many, wonderful, readable, interesting poets. Once you get started, you will find others. The web is a wonderful resource and the links in my side column will take you to poetry sites featuring poetry of many different cultures.

Enjoy as you explore. And for now, I live you with a nice envoi from Emily Dickinson--one of my favorite:

Emily Dickinson

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides--
You may have met Him--
did you not
His notice sudden is--

The Grass divides as with a Comb--
A spotted shaft is seen--
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on--

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn--
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot--
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me--
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality--

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone--

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April 28, 2005

Reading Poetry Part III

Questions have been raised about where to begin.

My suggestions will start with things that should already be familiar.

For narrative poetry--the Book of Job, and The Song of Songs (sort of).

For lyric poetry The Psalms.

There is a tendency not to remember that these are poetic forms. They are presented as poetry for a reason--for several reasons.

Poetry is usually more easily memorized than prose--it has hooks like rhythm or rhyme, which unfortunately, modern translations largely remove. But memorizability was an extremely important feature in an oral culture.

But the next time you set out to read the psalms, push the lines. Read them intentionally as poetry. Understand the line-breaks, understand the possible meanings that build up. Read them in several different versions and hear how different translators interpreted them. This is a critical factor so you can understand why some of us (me in particular) go on and on and on about the KJV or the circa 1660 BCP translations--or the Translations of the Countess of Pembroke , Mary Sidney. The language is older, and bit harder to slip into. But that's okay, it will slow you down, make you intentional in your reading. Poetry should be allowed to melt in the mouth like Neuhaus or Godiva--not chewed and swallowed like Hershey's. The savor of it should linger--but for that to happen it must be heard. As silly as you may feel about it, read what ever poetry you read aloud. Hear it, allow the words to sink in. The Liturgy of the Hours, properly done, should be vocalized, and at a minimum our mouths should form the words. There are good reasons for these rules--they slow us down. They force us to move at the speed of speaking rather than the speed of thought. More, they train our mouths to say words of praise, they train our minds to hear and recognize them.

Reading poetry should engage as many of the sense as possible.

(must run now--have the most unpoetic engagement you could possibly conceive of--I'll be back later to proofread revise, amend and perhaps post more.)

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I need a "roomy" but strictly formal and recursive poetic form for a new poem I'm trying to put together.

I thought of both villanelle (insufficient room) and sestina (may be insufficient room). I'm wondering about the possibility of a septina--new form modeled on the changes in the Sestina; however, I'm not sure it works numerically, and I don't think I need the room of an "octina."

In fact, I'm thinking of going to some Persian forms. Or perhaps some Sanskrit forms. After all the Vedas are hundreds of thousands of lines long, surely that would be enough "room."

Would welcome input.

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There is a possibility that I will be able to meet a person for whom I have been writing once a week, regularly, for going on or more than 10 years. (It boggles the mind.) This acquaintance is of such antiquity that we met via GEnie services--I don't know if that is just pre-internet boom (I think so) or not. Anyway, pleasae pray that this might finally happen. We had one near miss before, and much is contingent upon schedule and other things. So it might fall through. I certainly hope not. But. . .

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Poetry and Religion

A neat discovery bei Scipio. Does anyone know the German for chez?

Later: Someone DID know. What a surprise that it should have been Scipio himself. Anyway, it's altered above so nothing any longer makes sense. And that's just the way I like it.

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April 27, 2005

Rules for Reading Poetry

1. First, enjoy reading it--laugh, cry, sit for a moment and look out the window.
2. Next, consider what, if anything, it might mean.
3. Then, forget whatever it was you did in step 2.
4. Last, enjoy reading it. See God where He may be seen.

Believe it or not, people once read poetry for the sheer joy of it. With the right poets, it still may be done. For straightforward one goes to Tennyson, Poe, Wordsworth, for convoluted and lovely one strays into Eliot, Hopkins, Browning, Pound, and Arnold. And there are a great many contemporary poets well worth your attention.

But more on that later. First, I'll solicit suggestions from the audience. Yes--you there, in the front row, yes black sweater. . .

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What? You Don't Read Talmida's Blog?

Well, you really ought to. Otherwise you miss wonderful insights like this one. Talmida is apparently a person who is highly interested in Hebrew and in the insights that come for Christian living from truly understanding what our Jewish Brethren understand through their study. Read and enjoy.

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Fear/Dislike of Poetry--Reading Poetry Part II

Sorry, I will prevail upon your patience/endurance once again today.

Tom made such a good point in the comments box that I wanted to pull it out and center a post around it:

I can't speak for all the poetry-shy, but I suspect there are many for whom poetry is not disheartening or uncomfortable so much as frustrating, because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged rather than a toy to be played with.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

With respect to the first point--"because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged." This is one of the institutional defects of our educational system. Whether they intend to or not, whether it is conscious on their part or not, when often leave high school with the notion, garnered from our teachers, that there is a "meaning" to a poem that can be puzzled out if only you read the words right and get all the symbols in a row. Many teachers graded our papers on how well we understood THE meaning of the poem. And we always speak in terms of "the" meaning of a poem as though there were only one.

Well now, ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share a secret of the profession. Sometimes a poem has no meaning at all--sometimes it catches a moment, a sensation, an emotion, a strange pattern, and does little or nothing else. Such poems should not be excavated, interrogated, turned inside out or otherwise discombobulated. They should be savored like fine wine. Take Ezra Pound's famous imagist haiku:

At a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet black bough.

Any meaning it has is drawn not from the words but from the sense they conjure up in the reader. Are petals on a wet black bow unhappy, happy, formless, industrial, bad, good? Are they anything of themselves? For me this suggests the magnificent paintings and engravings of Hokusai and the entire Ukiyo-e painting school of Edo period Japan. In other words--good, very good. For my English teacher in my Senior year of College, this was an image of blank despair. Who is right about it? Both of us. One brings one set of images, one another, but the poem (as a proper imagist poem should) makes no value judgment at all. Yes, you can do intricate semantic analysis to try to determine how Pound felt about it, but, pardon me for speaking frankly, who cares? Pound is dead, his poem still lives and he has no say about what it means to anyone.

I could leave an entire book of possible meanings and intentions in my poems, but if they don't say it themselves, a ream of prose exposition isn't going to help.

So, the first secret, there is no THE meaning. There is the multiplicity of meanings that spring from your interaction with the poem. Just as when you read scripture, it seems to reinvent itself revealing new facets depending on when and in what emotional state you read it, so too with great poetry.

Now, we mustn't lay aside the most critical part of Tom's very good points.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

Over at Lofted Nest there was a discussion going on about how academia has seized and placed a strangle-hold on poetry. Bad poetry comes in two versions: the Helen Steiner Rice/Rod McKuen school and the Poeme-Concrete-and-other-pretentiously-named-psuedo-schools. There is a wealth of bad poetry out there to read. It can be found in every anthology and in every course on poetry. Even more so now that our focus is more "multi-culti" and representation than on quality. In most of these schools the idea of poetry is carried to rarified heights of utter abstruseness and silliness.

One of the poets ill-favored at Lofted Nest is William Carlos Williams. I don't happen to agree with the evaluation, but I can agree with their essential point, which is that academics have taken what is a cute little imagist joke and turned it into some portentously deep meaningful poetic experience. I'm sorry, a red wheel barrow glazed with rain among some chickens is a delightful rural image, nothing more, nothing less. Absolutely nothing depends upon it. Williams knew it, and anyone who reads it for the real pleasure of it knows it. It's a toss off. I happen to think it is a nice toss-off and it conjures up all kinds of invented memories and imagined rural states. But, let's face it, it is not fraught with deep meaning. Yes, you can read a tremendous amount into it.

Even more silly is the adulation over the lunchbox note of Williams to his wife This Is Just to Say. Again a cute idea with a couple of nice touches--but really the stuff of parody. These are not the stuff of say Wallace Steven's "Disillusionment of 10 O'Clock," The Emperor of Ice Cream, or even the imagist riff Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, a poem which both in title and in the haiku- and tanka-like strophes suggests Hokusai's famous print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. (The number varies up to 100. The prints inspired a story by Roger Zelazny "24 Views of Mount Fuji." The Series includes the very famous print "The Great Wave of Kanagawa.) They are not even cummings sonnet "the cambridge ladies live in furnished souls. . ."

That is one branch of bad poetry. I won't include examples because there is no need, you've had enough stuffed down your throat. The other side of this is the schmaltzier than hallmark school of sing-song ring-rhymy verse that canters along to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and inevitably end-rhymes no matter how tortured or convoluted a line must be produced in order to make it work. You've all probably seen much of this, but one of the great mavens of this sort of thing is Helen Steiner Rice. I'll reproduce a single line which is sufficient to encompass the oeuvre, "Peace on earth will come to stay, When we live Christmas every day." Now, this is bad poetry. That is not to say there is not a modicum of enjoyment in it, but it simply does not do a service to either rhyme or meter and trivializes a great art. There is no harm in liking it, and rather like reading "Captain Underpants" books, if it allows you access to poetry, it is good to read it. But it doesn't celebrate the greatness of great poetry.

These two factors--trying to puzzle out meaning where what the poet may have intended is "a momentary taste of being from the well amid the waste," and constant exposure to the bad poetry academics and greeting card writers push on us as exemplary of the art--are truly enough to drain all the joy from poetry. But there is a sufficiently large oeuvre between these two poles that you will find much to enjoy if you keep in mind that poetry is an invitation to come out and play, to frolic in the sun, or to have a conversation on the porch with the poet. T.S. Eliot doesn't often frolic, but if one looks at Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats one gets a sense of the playfulness and genuine love of language that underlay all great poets.

Poetry is a much misunderstood, mistaught, and maligned art. I love the language, I love to get inside and crawl around and see all sorts of things that one cannot see standing outside and merely using it as though it were a tool. It is a tool, but it is the gracious and wonderful gift of God as well--and it were well to use it as such.

The short version of this is: I concur precisely with Tom's well-made and cogent points.

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Shakespeare CL

. . . or, God speaks to His Children--pay attention particularly to the last two lines.

CL. William Shakespeare

O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantize of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.

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Reading Poetry Part II

As a coda to what is below:

The surest way to kill poetry and its joy is to do as your teachers taught you and search for THE meaning--as though there were only one. One of the great surprises of poetry is its suppleness--the chameleon-like quality it can possess to say any number of things with the same words. Look at the comments on some of the poems from earlier this week and see the diverging visions of what is said. Blake is considerably instructive, but also the comments on my own unpolished work.

Harold Bloom tells us that great literature "reads us" as much as we read it. The meaning of a poem is a conjuction of who you are and what the poem can say. A great poem can speak beyond the strict bounds of its metaphor to the heart of the individual encountering it. When we read Blake, or Keats, or Quarles, we hear the poet, but we also hear the echoes of our own hearts and beings.

And perhaps that is another reason why many are frightened of poetry--sometimes they may not care for what they hear.

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A Mystical Poem and Reading Poetry--Part I

My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles (1592–1644)

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

I often wonder if there is some way in which poetry and mysticism are linked. I tend to think that there is, as many of the great mystics were pure poets, and many poets show a rather mystical bent. I suspect that it is the strength of language and the usefulness of metaphor. The mystical experience, from all accounts, can barely be talked about at all much less explicated in some elaborate treatise. As the experience is interior and not fully accessible to the merely sensory, it is suggestive rather than demonstrative, and so lends itself to poetic expression more than prose delineation.

I could be wrong about this. But I look at the works of great poets--Blake, Whitman, Keats, Tennyson, Shelley, Arnold, and others--some of them doubters and even atheists, and they show evidence of contact with another world. In this way they are rather like theoretical mathematicians who push the boundaries of our knowledge of math. Perhaps it is working in words--climbing inside and seeing how they tick and HOW they mean and resonate. Perhaps this too is the thing about poetry that tends to discomfit readers of poetry. They are used to the solid, sturdy meanings of words. Poetry is like a glass floor over an aquarium--you begin to see through the words and think that they might fail you and you would fall through them. They begin to mean more than they mean, and so simultaneously they begin to mean less. Our initial encounter with the multiplicity of meanings tends to force us back to strict definition. I remember the awe and wonder I experienced as I began to consider the word "still" in this line from Keats:

"Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness."

The first line of "Ode on a Grecian Urn." At first glance the meaning is solid, there is no question about what it means and yet it sets up its own resonance. What does the word "still" mean? Well, for one thing, it means silent. So the line becomes "Thou silent unravish'd bride of quietness." It also means unmoving. In further stretches of the meaning it become nearly synonymous with eternity, as in "Are you still here?" And another meaning--often urns were made to hold wine and other offerings to the Gods. In this sense the still could be the distillation of the spirits, both alcohol and the communion of the Saints. That is, the urn suggests a connection to all of those for whom the urn was used as vessel or as decoration and with all of those for whom the urn had some special meaning. As such, it also suggests the container itself--the thing within which the distillation is made. We would have to see as we continue exploration of the poem which of these meanings is borne out. I could reasonably argue that most of them are meant and used in the depth of the poem.

This kind of fruitful ambiguity is often very disheartening and very uncomfortable for people who want a word to mean one thing and to mean that thing only. But it is really the gateway to an entirely new way of seeing things. Poetry uses simile and metaphor, in a sense it seeks the connections between all things. And I suppose in this sense it IS mystical, because the ultimate, underlying connection between all things is that God sustains each one of them. There is nothing that is without the constant mindfulness of God with respect to its being. Nothing can exist outside His will and His constant care. In one way poetry seeks to explore this truth even if the poet explicitly denies it. Poetry tends to give us transcendentalists--Emerson and Whitman; but it also gives us the Divine--St. John of the Cross.

Those who deny themselves the pleasures of poetry deny themselves one means of seeing God. Poetry engages the reason even as it engages the heart and it speaks in a way that prose simply cannot speak. The Psalms tell us nothing "new" about God, but they tell us in a way that may bypass resistance and go straight to the heart. "The Song of Songs" while definitely about erotic love is also about the soul's communion with God--it tells us something of the person whose life is utterly dedicated to God.

And the Song of Songs brings us back to Francis Quarles who started our little conversation. First, note the turns on a simple phrase that adorn the last, and sometimes the last two lines. These set up the interconnections within the poem. They set up the resonances, the echoes that draw you into what is being said. They emphasize and reiterate the point of all that occurs before them, and they ring changes on the simple theme, "I am my beloved's and he is mine."

Examine carefully the third stanza and particularly the changes it rings on the line. "The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine." Notice how "beloved's" here has taken on a dual meaning. It means not only the possessive of beloved, but it also reflects the opposite side of the semi-colon and suggests that the mundane world belongs to those who search for wealth, but the world of the beloved belongs to those who cling to him. It's simple, it's subtle, but it opens up the world of possibilities in interpreting and understanding the poem.

Go on then to the fourth stanza where we are told in the final line:

"Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine."

This is in answer to the temptation of the nine muses--the entertaining and lively arts of this world. The poet assures us that all these passing pleasures could not lure him away from the beloved. But notice the end of the line--"or his, from being mine." That is that the heart of the beloved becomes the heart of the speaker/poet.

Continue through, examine the changes rung on the theme. See how poetry pierces through the clatter of argumentation and elaborate logical constructs. I sometimes wonder if this is what St. Thomas Aquinas meant about his words being "as straw." That is, they couldn't begin to give an insight into the actual experience he had even though they gave one of the great pictures of what God is like. However, he would have been wrong, because his hymns and poetry do climb to those heights. They get under the weight of the disputations and arguments and reasoning and pull out from them the simple straight contours of what St. Thomas is trying to tell us all in his great work. Obviously the Summa and the other great works are not mere passing fancies--they are not straw, but a powerful means of coming to know about God and thus ultimately to knowing God Himself, if one is properly disposed. I suspect St. Thomas was merely trying to indicate to us the depth and breadth and height that is achieved in the vision of God that comes to one who dedicates his entire life to God's work cannot be expressed in the way he chose to express the reallities of theology. And He chose to tell us in a simile--in a line of poetry, because only poetry is strong enough to contain the meaning he wanted to convey. Poetry is an exceedingly sturdy vessel for both thought and emotion--and because it does not seek to divorce the one from the other, it allows a different angle from which to view the Glory of God.

So, you poetry-shy out there. Get started. Read slowly, read aloud. Listen to the words and explore and play with them. Poetry is a play-date. It is an invitation to joy. Accept and enter this miraculous world in which things are said without being said.

Afterword: This is not at all what I set out to write this morning. And that is one of the joys of writing, you discover new things as you go. I really just wanted to present this wonderful little gem of Quarles's with perhaps a bit of commentary, but as I wrote, I discovered new things to say. I hope this was as pleasant for you to read as it was for me to discover in writing. Oh, and do let me know what you think about Quarles and any new things you may find in the stanzas.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

A Protestant View of the Catholic Church

While I do not agree with all his points (and I'm sure the Internet Monk would not expect me to), there is a great deal of good in this essay/view of Catholicism. I particularly like the way he "got" Saints and really had a bead on John Paul the Great.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:32 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

For Kate, via Siris: On Andrea Dworkin

A more reasoned and reasonable discussion of Andrea Dworkin's contributions to modern thought.

Including this note, in which Canada demonstrates its superiority in at least one aspect of thinking:

In Canada, however, Dworkin's anti-porn efforts succeeded. A Canadian court ruled that pornography was not protected under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it was in fact degrading to women. When Canadian Customs officers began seizing porn, GLBT advocates were outraged—porn is big in the gay community.

Dworkin's anti-porn crusade set off shock waves on the left. The right to pornography is the new third-rail of modern liberal politics—touch it and you'll die.

In the church of sexual libertinism, pornography is a holy sacrament. It is "high-brow" and liberating. The free flow of porn has become a leading indicator that the old moral values are dead and the new ethic of sexual narcissism is alive and well. In the view of many on the left, Dworkin's attempt to eradicate pornography amounted to censorship and showed an appalling lack of enlightenment.

What Andrea Dworkin knew instinctively is that male-female relationships are terribly broken, the pieces so scattered and torn that no one seems to know what the thing ought to look like. She blamed this brokenness on men, and there she made a philosophical wrong turn. But if she failed to understand the root causes of the evil she witnessed, she did not fail to grasp the terrible price women were paying in a society that views them as sexual objects.


The Christian view of marriage is a relationship modeled on the unbreakable covenant and unselfish love that God himself has for us. Marital sexuality is not rape, but a consensual commitment before God to create new life. It is to be a joyous experience of intimacy and trust, of mutual enjoyment and mutual giving.

. . . The Christian church has to answer the criticisms of people like Dworkin. In Christ there is hope: for peace, for respect, for love, for trust, for commitment, for fulfillment, all in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. That promise too often goes unfulfilled.

The essay demystifies and removes some of the propaganda that surround Dworkin's thoughts. It is salutary reading for those who heard only the strident voices arrayed against Dworkin. Indeed, this essay is so good it's like Godiva Chocolate. I owe Brandon a great debt of gratitude. Thank you!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Newsflash: Radical Rabbi Reveals Self-Expression Can Be Murder!

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-11 (KJV)

News exclusive. In an insider, exclusive interview today, well-known rabble-rouser and sometime blasphemer, Rabbi Yeshua ben Joseph was quoted as saying, "If you have called your brother a fool, you have already committed murder." When asked to comment on this patently absurd teaching Chief Priest and well-known art critic and man-about-town Caiaphas had this to say. . .

Many of the things Jesus has to say to us are hard sayings. In this country we have, through the grace of God, been granted the freedom of speech. Our wise constitutional interpreters have expanded speech to include nearly every form of "expression" possible, from lap-dancing to flag burning. The gift of free speech is a gift indeed; however, the liberty to speak freely must be separated from the license to speak one's mind. License is always an abuse of liberty and the beginning of its downfall, or at very least of the downfall of the person exercising license.

Jesus is very clear in what he says regarding how we speak and feel about those around us. But, it behooves us to listen well, so I repeat the words of Jesus in the exceedingly annoying and prolix Amplified Bible version:

21You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court.

22But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

I think it is fairly clear here that Jesus doesn't want us speaking ill of our brethren. Now, there may be some who would say it is perfectly permissible to say these things if it is done without rancor; however, I question the ability of any human being (other than Jesus himself) to say these things without rancor, The reason I do so lies in one of the mysteries of iniquity that resulted from the fall.

Human beings by their nature seek to feel good about themselves. In many cases they seek this good by comparison with others. To feel good about myself, I must somehow be better than those around me. It is this chain of reasoning that ends in gas chambers, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in the concentration camps of North Korea. When we begin to speak ill of those around us, it gives us license to treat them as we speak of them. If they are fools, then we treat them like fools. If they are reckless idiots, then we are better off without them. If they are "filthy" or speak a different language, or adhere to a different set of standards so far as etiquette is concerned, then it is within our rights to dismiss them, and if they are loud or obnoxious enough, to do away with them.

When we open our mouths to accuse the brethren, we become the accuser of brethren. When we speak ill of a person because of race, nationality, intelligence, sex, sexual preference, ideology, or for any reason, we put ourselves in danger. It is clear. Our Lord taught us that the first step on the road to murder is murder itself. When we say, "You idiot," (or, as I do so that Samuel won't understand me in traffic, espece d'idiot--when someone does dome amazingly outrageous tourist maneuver they wouldn't consider for a moment driving about their own home town) we make ourselves fuel for the fire. (But Samuel sees through even the language barrier (tone conveys a lot) and we get our usual theological lecture from the back seat, "Jesus wouldn't like what you're saying." Oh and it's so hard to hear that because it is so true. Everyone who would speak against their brother should have my child dogging their heels--amazing how many ways he is a gift to me.)

It is simply impermissible to think of one's brother this way, to harbor anger, resentment, or even lingering feelings of superiority or of the inferiority of the other. Admittedly, we are provoked, we are made angry and sometimes say these things. The important point is to let go of them immediately. It isn't so much the saying that is damnable, but it is the lingering impression they leave on the mind as we rethink them. Admittedly, we shouldn't be provoked into saying them to start with. Most often we are provoked by those who have somehow injured our pride or otherwise aggravated ourselves. (More often than not the aggravation is a direct result of the similarity of their action to our own in like situation.) We must grow beyond the need to feel better at another's expense. When we set ourselves up in this way, we will only be knocked down.

What we say has real consequences. It affects our moods of the day, it affects the way we think about things, it affects the way we react to people and events. When we say "I can't" then very often, we cannot. When we call the cherished children of God by names not worthy of them, we shape our thoughts to conform to our words. We have murdered the real person with our image of that person.

So, we are never better off in saying some of those things that cross our mind, and often far worse off. Better then to not let the word issue from the mouth and become "concrete." Better to let the thought pass and replace it with a moment of divine mercy prayer, for ourselves and for those against whom we would trespass.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Bad Habits

I have an obnoxious habit of going to other people's sites and making comments. Now, I know that this is what comment boxes are for; however, I tend to say things that are really none of my business and really not conducive to helping anyone. I found myself writing a long drawn-out lecture elsewhere and suddenly realized how really very arrogant this sort of thing must sound. So, for those times in the past when I have done this one your sites (if any), I apologize. And for the future, I will try very hard to avoid this didactic and pedantic edge I seem to have. It isn't intentional--I just so desire that people get along that I rush in and make a fool of myself and aggravte everyone else. Fortunately, I think this has been done minimally, but I've noticed an increased frequency to it of recent date. Perhaps I should just hang around places where this temptation does not present itself.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:08 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Evelyn Underhill

One of the early twentieth century's finest writers on spirituality, I did not realize that she had a poetic oeuvre, from which this is taken.

Corpus Christi
Evelyn Underhill

COME, dear Heart!
The fields are white to harvest: come and see
As in a glass the timeless mystery
Of love, whereby we feed
On God, our bread indeed.
Torn by the sickles, see him share the smart
Of travailing Creation: maimed, despised,
Yet by his lovers the more dearly prized
Because for us he lays his beauty down—
Last toll paid by Perfection for our loss!
Trace on these fields his everlasting Cross,
And o’er the stricken sheaves the Immortal Victim’s crown.

From far horizons came a Voice that said,
‘Lo! from the hand of Death take thou thy daily bread.’
Then I, awakening, saw
A splendour burning in the heart of things:
The flame of living love which lights the law
Of mystic death that works the mystic birth.
I knew the patient passion of the earth,
Maternal, everlasting, whence there springs
The Bread of Angels and the life of man.

Now in each blade
I, blind no longer, see
The glory of God’s growth: know it to be
An earnest of the Immemorial Plan.
Yea, I have understood
How all things are one great oblation made:
He on our altars, we on the world’s rood.
Even as this corn,
We are snatched from the sod;
Reaped, ground to grist,
Crushed and tormented in the Mills of God,
And offered at Life’s hands, a living Eucharist.

What is one to make of that last stanza?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:46 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Poetry of Robert Hugh Benson

In general, Benson was a far better prose artist than poet; however, occasionally a piece shines through"

from ‘Christian Evidences’
Robert Hugh Benson (1871–1914)

NOW God forbid that Faith be blind assent,
Grasping what others know; else Faith were nought
But learning, as of some far continent
Which others sought,
And carried thence, better the tale to teach,
Pebbles and sheels, poor fragments of the beach.

Now God forbid that Faith be built on dates,
Cursive or uncial letters, scribe or gloss,
What one conjectures, proves, or demonstrates:
This were the loss
Of all to which God bids that man aspire,
This were the death of life, quenching of fire.

Nay, but with Faith I see. Not even Hope,
Her glorious sister, stands so high as she.
For this but stands expectant on the slope
That leads where He
Her source and consummation sets His seat,
Where Faith dwells always to caress His Feet.

Nay, but with Faith I saw my Lord and God
Walk in the fragrant garden yesterday.
Ah! how the thrushes sang; and, where He trod
Like spikenard lay
Jewels of dew, fresh-fallen from the sky,
While all the lawn rang round with melody.

Nay, but with Faith I marked my Saviour go,
One August noonday, down the stifling street
That reeked with filth and man; marked from Him flow
Radiance so sweet,
The man ceased cursing, laughter lit the child,
The woman hoped again, as Jesus smiled.

Nay, but with Faith I sought my Lord last night,
And found Him shining where the lamp was dim;
The shadowy altar glimmered, height on height,
A throne for Him:
Seen as through lattice work His gracious Face
Looked forth on me and filled the dark with grace.

Nay then, if proof and tortured argument
Content thee—teach thee that the Lord is there,
Or risen again; I pray thee be content,
But leave me here
With eye unsealed by any proof of thine,
With eye unsealed to know the Lord is mine.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Home is the Sailor Day Keene

Hard Case Crime is an imprint which is trying to revive the noir. They have published a couple of real 50's pieces and a larger number of modern-day homage to the genre. This novel by Day Keene is one of the original 50s pieces.

True to the genre, a not very bright male falls, hook, line, and sinker for a femme fatale who, if he had ever bothered to crack open a pulp paperback, he would have recognized from across the street. The whole novel is fairly predictable in its course and even in its denouement. What IS interesting about it is the handling of the noir themes and the leering pulp interest stemming from sexual themes.

The writing, overall, is fine. There are a few clinkers here and there, but for the most part the story chugs along just fine. There are some interesting details about San Diego and Tijuana of 50 years ago. But hard-core investigation or mystery is completely lacking.

For pure mind-free fun, this book was a blast. It's an evening's read, and an easy one at that. However, it really is more of a piece for connoisseurs of older mystery forms and might not have a large audience today. I hope so, because I'd like to see the series continue and I'd love to see the other pieces they revive.

Next stop Randy Wayne White's Captiva. I'll be reading a few of these as prep for my trip down to Naples. All of his mysteries are set in West Florida and have about them the air of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee without some of the weird sexual healing philosophy that tended to pervade those. I'll let you know as I finish, but so far, so good.

As to Home is the Sailor--Recommended with minor reservations.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

Puzzling Progressivism

I am a little puzzled about the reaction of most progressives to Pope Benedict XVI.

If we look at it closely, the worst we could possibly expect was more of the same. The better view is that moving from previous position to Pope would give him a chance to exercise greater pastoral care and we might see less of the same.

If they thought they were going to get:
(1) optional celibacy
(2) ordination of women
(3) ordination of/marriage of gays

then I would say that their idealism got the best of them. I don't think it would much have mattered who was Pope, these things were not in the offing. The relaxation of optional celibacy is something that may come about in the near future. I don't see much hope for the ordination of women for a very long time, and as to the third group I don't hold out much hope of that either.

So why is Benedict XVI so difficult to endure? If anything, as Pope he is lilkely to loosen up. After 25-26 years as bad cop he'll get to play good Cop and find another person to take up his role.

In addition, and this is not to be taken that I wish the Holy Father any harm, his reign is likely to be somewhat shorter than that of his predecessor. My guess is somewhere in the 3-10 year range, but it depends on how his health holds up under the pressure of being pontiff.

So, in short, nothing has changed, it isn't any worse than it was, and now that the Pope is not in the role of enforcement, you're likely to see much better.

Finally, if one regards it rightly, the Holy Spirit has spoken. We don't know what this enigmatic form of speech may mean for the church, but we can rest assured, that it was the decision of the Holy Spirit, and therefore politics and preferences aside, it is right for the Church at this time, for whatever reason. Hold onto that trust, stay the course. All manner of things will be well. The Church is still the Church and it is still home--it has not changed from the Church of God, nor is it likely to. Take heart.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

From His Installation Homily

Pope Benedict XVI

And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life. Amen.

And so, he continues the message of John Paul the Great, even as he moves in his own way. Through the prayers of John Paul the Great may we see Benedict grow in love and in his ability to understand, unite, and shepherd the people of God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack